Colonial Korea,  Gyeongsangnam-do

Colonial Korea – Ssanggyesa Temple

The entrance to Ssanggyesa Temple from 1910. (Picture Courtesy of the National Museum of Korea).

Temple History

Ssanggyesa Temple is located in Jirisan National Park in Hadong, Gyeongsangnam-do. The temple was first constructed in 722 A.D., and it was called Okcheonsa Temple. The temple was built after the monks Daebi and Sambeop were instructed by the Jirisan Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) in the form of a tiger to find a valley where arrowroot blossomed throughout the year even during wintertime. Both monks were the disciples of the famed temple building monk, Uisang-daesa (625-702). Finding such a location, they built Okcheonsa Temple. And after returning from China, they buried the skull of the Sixth Seon Patriarch, Huineng (638-713 A.D.), under the main hall. It was later dug up and placed inside a pagoda. It wasn’t until 840 A.D. that the temple was enlarged by Jingam-seonsa (774-850), and its name changed to Ssanggyesa Temple. Ssanggyesa Temple means “Twin Stream Temple” in English for the two streams that flow on either side of the temple grounds. Tragically, and like much of Korea, Ssanggyesa Temple was completely destroyed during the Imjin War (1592-98) by the invading Japanese. It wasn’t until 1632 that the temple was rebuilt.

In total, Ssanggyesa Temple is home to one National Treasure, the Stele of Master Jingam at Ssanggyesa Temple, as well as 9 additional Korean Treasures.

Colonial Era Photography

It should be noted that one of the reasons that the Japanese took so many pictures of Korean Buddhist temples during Japanese Colonial Rule (1910-1945) was to provide images for tourist photos and illustrations in guidebooks, postcards, and photo albums for Japanese consumption. They would then juxtapose these images of “old Korea” with “now” images of Korea. The former category identified the old Korea with old customs and traditions through grainy black-and-white photos.

These “old Korea” images were then contrasted with “new” Korea images featuring recently constructed modern colonial structures built by the Japanese. This was especially true for archaeological or temple work that contrasted the dilapidated former structures with the recently renovated or rebuilt Japanese efforts on the old Korean structures contrasting Japan’s efforts with the way that Korea had long neglected their most treasured of structures and/or sites.

This visual methodology was a tried and true method of contrasting the old (bad) with the new (good). All of this was done to show the success of Japan’s “civilizing mission” on the rest of the world and especially on the Korean Peninsula. Furthering this visual propaganda was supplemental material that explained the inseparable nature found between Koreans and the Japanese from the beginning of time. 

To further reinforce this point, the archaeological “rediscovery” of Japan’s antiquity in the form of excavated sites of beautifully restored Silla temples and tombs found in Japanese photography was the most tangible evidence for the supposed common ancestry both racially and culturally. As such, the colonial travel industry played a large part in promoting this “nostalgic” image of Korea as a lost and poor country, whose shared cultural and ethnic past was being restored to prominence once more through the superior Japanese and their “enlightened” government. And Ssanggyesa Temple played a part in the propagation of this propaganda, especially since it played such a prominent role in Korean Buddhist history and culture. Here are a collection of Colonial era pictures of Ssanggyesa Temple through the years.

Pictures of Colonial Era Ssanggyesa Temple


A wooden guardian post near the entry of Ssanggyesa Temple. (All pictures courtesy of the National Museum of Korea).
The Iljumun Gate.
The Geumgangmun Gate.
The Cheonwangmun Gate.
And the Cheonghak-ru Pavilion.
The Palsang-jeon Hall at Ssanggyesa Temple.
And the eaves of the Palsang-jeon Hall.
The Daeung-jeon Hall.
The eaves of the Daeung-jeon Hall.
A look inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.
The main altar image of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), which is part of the Wooden Seated Shakyamuni Triad of Ssanggyesa Temple.
Another of the statues on the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall that’s part of the Wooden Seated Shakyamuni Triad of Ssanggyesa Temple.
A look around the interior of the Daeung-jeon Hall.
The Bronze Bell of Ssanggyesa Temple.
The signboard above the Chilseong-gak Hall entryway.
The five-story pagoda at Ssanggyesa Temple.
The Byeoksongdang-tap stupa.
Students and monks at Ssanggyesa Temple.
Monks at Ssanggyesa Temple.
A look at Guksaam Hermitage on the Ssanggyesa Temple grounds.

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